Most modern snowshoes are a no-brainer to use. Simply step in, pull the straps tight on your boots and start walking.
But webfooters heading out for more than a couple of outings a year tend to become more tuned in to performance.
The first step is to match snowshoe size with the snowshoer’s weight.
“That’s where we start,” said Brian Conn at Mountain Gear in Spokane. “Generally, the heavier the snowshoer, the larger the snowshoe must be for flotation.
Snow conditions are another factor. Snowshoers hiking on packed snow or on a trail already broken by others, don’t need snowshoes as large as they would if they were regularly breaking trail in powdery, unpacked snow.
“And if you plan to go out with a 50-pound pack on your back, you might need a size larger for optimum performance,” Conn said.
In other words, people who expect to snowshoe long distances on a wide range of conditions, might need two or more pairs of snowshoes.
Modern snowshoe bindings usually have an aluminum claw of some sort to help with traction and climbing.
The way the binding is hinged makes a difference in the way the snowshoe performs.
Many modern snowshoe bindings have a stop that limits the drop of snowshoe tail when your foot is lifted.
“I like to run downhill, and this prevents the tail of the snowshoe from flopping vertical under my foot with in a big bound,” Conn said. “That could trip you up.”
However, when you stride out in some snow conditions with limited-range binding hinges, the tails flip snow toward your back and arms with each step – soaking your rear end or hands in some conditions.
“That’s a tradeoff,” Conn said, noting that enough people complained about it that snowshoe companies began offering more bindings that hinge more freely.
• Take food and water when you’re snowshoeing. You can burn a lot of calories and easily become dehydrated, even on the coldest days. Hot coffee, tea or soup in a thermos is a great mood lifter to chase away chills.
• Bring basic safety equipment in case of an emergency, including a map, compass, weatherproof fire-starter and a space blanket. A GPS and cell phone are other options, but cold weather can quickly drain batteries.
• Get an early start. Daylight doesn’t last long in winter. If you start late, you’re more likely to wind up in the dark if something goes wrong. Let someone you can trust know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
• Plan a route that heads uphill first. It will make your return trip quicker and less strenuous.
• Watch the weather. Blizzards can cause whiteouts that erase your tracks and make route-finding difficult even on marked trails. Temperatures also can drop drastically during winter.
• Dogs love snow, but it takes a lot of effort for them to get through deep snow. Plan the distance of your trip according to your companion’s ability. Frequently check for ice build up between their toes.
• Your boots will be covered with snow, so make sure they’re warm and waterproof. Wear gaiters.